Comedian Wyatt Cenac comes across as thoughtful, wry and concise.
Consider his take on the old adage about baseball and apple pie.
“When people say baseball is as American as apple pie, I say, ‘No, it’s more American.’ Because apple pie you bake one, you got to cut slices for everybody. That’s socialism.”
But when it came to starting his own comedy career nearly 20 years ago, he was about as subtle as a sledgehammer. As a student at the University of North Carolina, he sent some sketches he had written to “Saturday Night Live,” along with a letter asking to become a cast member.
The letter came back, unread. Cenac went on to resend it – once a month for about six months.
“I think if someone sent me a letter like that once a month for six months I’d just assume that person was a nut job,” said Cenac, 38. “But I finally got an internship out of it and got to see what a machine that show is. It was the best learning experience I could have.”
Cenac, who will bring his stand-up act to Portland’s One Longfellow Square on Wednesday, followed his internship on “SNL” with a writing job on the animated comedy show “King of the Hill” on Fox. In 2008 he became a correspondent for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Comedy Central and stayed on the show four years. He has starred in comedy specials on Comedy Central and Netflix and tours the country doing stand-up.
Cenac, who was born in New York but raised mostly in Dallas, is an unabashed child of television. He says he watched “a LOT” of TV as a kid and found it to be a “magical place.”
“Whether it was cartoons or sitcoms or stand-up, it just seemed like a place where I would want to go and play,” said Cenac.
Cenac now works on TV a lot, but he still plays. Now he plays with words and mental images.
He admits that his comedy can be described as observational, but that all comedy is that way. Sometimes it’s observations about personal things in one’s life, or politics or world affairs or religion.
“But it’s all basically my thoughts, through my filter,” Cenac said.
His style on stage is more of a storyteller than of someone flinging one-liners. He doesn’t do funny voices or physical comedy much either.
Here’s a joke, from the Comedy Central website, he’s told about how he wanted to write a comic book as a kid.
“I always wanted to write my own comic book. I was going to call it ‘Spider-Man.’ Now before you call Marvel’s attorneys, my comic book was not about a man who gets powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider, but instead about a spider who gets bitten by a radioactive man,” said Cenac. “So he doesn’t really have powers, he just kind of sits on the couch playing a lot of Xbox, complaining about how he’s overqualified for the job he’s got and trying to stay one step ahead of his arch-nemesis Black Spider-Man, who’s just an exterminator named Tyrone.”
Cenac is topical, doing a lot of jokes about politics and pop culture.
He’s talked about how few people vote for president, for instance. He lamented in one joke about how singer Jordin Sparks got millions more votes when she won “American Idol” in 2007 then President Obama did when he was elected in 2008.
“Basically the leader of the free world is Jordin Sparks. She’s the biracial change we can believe in,” he said.
Cenac is also skillful at lampooning trends in society. When plugging his comedy album “Brooklyn” on “The Daily Show,” he mentioned that it was only available on vinyl and that he had only 1,000 copies made.
“I figured if I was going to name something ‘Brooklyn’ ” I should do the most small-batch, artisanal thing I can do and make it very hard for people to have access to it,” said Cenac.
Maybe that’s why he is playing a small venue in a small city like Portland, instead of a larger arena in a larger city: to make his comedy more artisanal.
WHAT: Wyatt Cenac
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 25)
WHERE: One Longfellow Square,
181 State St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $15